Dom took his three big steps back looking over to his left; Tone stared back from the slot awaiting a check, while the crafty wideout Jack stood disciplined as ever. Way wide on the right, flanking, was Zack, wiggling his fingers in anticipation….rookies. “Just give it away…” Dom muttered to himself as he settled. Two stomps. “Set!!!” Two more. “Gray Forty! Gray Forty!!” An empty signal he just wanted the defense to move a little.
The mountainous left tackle, Súarez, pointed out the outside line backer, “He’s comin!!”
The team had seven seconds to get the play off.
“He’s hot! Hot!! Bluuue Ninety! Hot! Laser!! Laser Thirty-Two!!! Laser Thirty-Two! La—“ Four stomps and four lasers got the pigskin hiked directly into his chest. Dom dropped, eyes reading the green. As he was hoping the safety had taken the speed challenge of covering Tone across the middle. That meant Jack was about to get the canon ball. He launched a sixty-yard bomb to the single-covered wideout. Easy Money. Touchdown.
“That boy…uh…twenty-seven!!! Oooweee! He bout shook you clean out the stadium!!” Tone cracked jokes at defensive-back Winston.
The locker room erupted in laughter as Tone and Zack acted out the shake and bake.
Winston, not usually one for the banter cracked back this time, “Who fumbled today though?”
Winston’s reply was answered with the deep “ooooohs” of his teammates. It was clear from stone’s expression that he didn’t take kindly to receiving what he himself fished out.
Before Tone could respond Dom interjected, “Winston ain’t drop nun t’day either, my guy!”.
“Ooooh okay, okay…so it’s jump-on-Tone day huh?”
“Nah…jus facts bro.” Dom tried to deescalate. Tone was what one would call short-tempered. A fuse shorter than his forty-yard dash time; and he was one of the fastest men in the league.
Dom was rolling his socks into a ball as Coach barged into the cramped locker room. Immediately noting how it should be a crime having to get dressed on top of one another. “Alright men, I’d tell you gather round…but you’re already here so…”, he started, “…the commissioner loved the performance y’all put on tonight. Says we may do more preseason games in Africa in the future. So congratulate yourselves!! I appreciate the professionalism and solid play. Planes up at ‘leven-thirty tomorrow. Keep it a calm easy night for me gentleman, can you do that for me?” His eyes were on Tone. “If you’re gonna go out take a teammate or two. That’s not a suggestion.” He said that, whenever he expected nothing less than what he’d said.
Dom was one of the last guys to get fully dressed and start for the locker room exit. He liked to take his time, he’d sat in the ice bath, showered and gotten a quick massage from the trainer; all the while, making the reporters earn it. Security did their best to keep the mob at bay as lights and microphones were held out, jabbing the space in front of them like torches and pitchforks. The questions were launched his direction like a shotgun blast; everyone talked at once until someone won out. Winning meant Dom’s eye contact, a direct point, a ‘what’d you just say’; any form of acknowledgement was what they all sought. Being the reporter who is acknowledged was second only to the juiciest sound byte or story. Dom knew that, so he always ignored them as long as he could too.
Finally a question broke through, “Are the rumors true about you and Tone having a an argument in the locker room?”
“What did you just say man?!” The room got a little quieter, but not by much. Everyone wanted to hear the question that got Dom’s attention.
“Yes. Frank Denton, Stat Sheet Media. Dom, could you explain what’s behind the rough patch between Antonio Murray and yourself?”
“Rough patch?”, Dom chuckled.
“I mean that would explain your poor connection with him in tonight’s game.”
“Poor connection?” Dom laughed out on that one. “C’mon man. It’s our first game. First pre-season game. And did you forget…we won!?” The mob all laughed at that. “Tone and I are great…who told you that lie anyway?”
Dom’s face flushed with embarrassment and anger, “Look man…get out of my face.” He pushed through the crowd with the help of security. The mob pursued them out into the stadium garage and up until the point Dom’s limousine pulled off a microphone was pointed in his direction.
“Man what’s up with you?! Got me lookin’ crazy with the cameras on me!!” Dom exclaimed at Tone’s voicemail. “Call me back ASAP.”
The limo driver sent the motorized center window up; it was either a very respectful gesture or he just didn’t want to hear Dom barking at the electronic device. No matter. Dom wanted privacy anyhow. It was a thirty minute drive to the hotel, that gave him an opportunity to collect his thoughts and review the game in his head. Although they were the vastly superior team to the South African club, he learned a lot from the scrimmage. For one, that they needed to work out a few kinks in their timing, he had made a few throws too early overthrowing his men more than once. Back home those throws would’ve been intercepted. Secondly, he needed to put the fear of god into the Rook about staying focus and not losing his edge now that he “had made it”. Keeping Mac, the second year scat-back from the dreaded sophomore-slump would also be key to their success this upcoming year; if this warm up game had taught him anything about Mac, it was that the kid had one mode. Go. He and the other starters had only gotten to play three series, they only scored once. Against a team they should’ve sailed past that was unacceptable in his over competitive mind.
Running through each play in his head, slowly guided Dom to sleep. He was awakened by the driver shaking his shoulder, “We are here sir, would you like your game bag taken to the team bus?”
“Yes Sir…” the driver responded with a thick South African accent that had traces of French in it.
“Uh…no, no, my bad man. Let me get my iPad out first. Got some work to do.” Dom stretched and yawned as he exited the vehicle.
He walked into the hotel lobby and immediately spotted a few of his teammates. A couple of the younger guys were huddled in a mass, laughing and horse playing in front of the hotel’s restaurant. Probably deciding on whether they’d eat there of risk a night out on the town.
Jack was at the hotel bar, alone. Of course he was. What else would the old vet be up to?
Dom strolled over to chat before he headed for his suite on the top floor. “What’s up Jacky Boy!?”. They dabbed up in their trademark fashion. They’d had plenty of practice on the handshake over the years; last year the fans got to see it fourteen times, as was the amount of receiving TD’s for Jack. The only other touchdown Jack recorded last year was a reverse handoff from Dom as well. Still though the duo was bounced out of the first round of the playoffs even after winning the division.
“Man eight years and you still throwing bombs in preseason bro?” Jack joked.
“Aye. Easy Money. I’m launching it til I’m ninety man!” Dom chimed back.
“I know Tone thought he was getting that check…been talkin bout it to the other guys.”
“That dude man…he ain’t gon he happy til he get every single pass.” Dom stated. “Don’t even get me started on his mouth though…had me looking like a fool today.”
“Oh yeah!” Jack smiled pointing up at the bars sole T.V.
Playing on a loop was Dom shoving the phone of the reporter away, as he stormed off. The headline below the looped video read: “Dominique Porter is ‘Tone-deaf’”.
“Great…”, Dom let his head fall to the bar, onto his folded arms. “That’s just great.”
“Can I get you anything sir?” The bartender asked.
“Nah he’s good my man. Thanks though.” Jack answered, knowing QB1’s aversion to drinking once the season started.
“Look man I’m gonna head up to my room.” Dom began, “…prolly go for a jog, so I miss all the memes on social media about this.”
“A jog?!? Dude you need to relax…” Jack insisted.
“Nah man.” Dom shook his head, “Somebody out there putting in work, RIGHT NOW. Ain’t finna outwork me tho, I’m gon’ be ready for em!”
“Always.” They dapped up again and Dom strode to the elevator and made his way to the massive suite.
Forget what Coach was on, Dom decided he was going on a jog with a teammate or not. A few hours after catching up with family via video chat and a solid decrompressing lounge on the balcony, he made his way out of the hotel. He adjusted the navigation app on his phone, donned his headphones and took off as soon as the bass dropped in the first song of his ‘track days’-playlist. It was a specific playlist timed at exactly thirty-five minutes and nineteen seconds. As he picked up the pace he thought and hoped a few fans would spot him and he’d get some of that “Ali Bomaye”-type love while he jogged here in Africa.
After awhile the mindlessness of keeping pace and zoning out to the music took over his attention. The lapse in awareness cost him. It came out of nowhere and knocked the six-foot, two-inch quarterback completely off his feet.
“Agh…”, he groaned out in pain, trying to crawl out of the dry shrubs that lined the hiking trail. “What the—“. His words became lodged right at the crescendo of his esophagus, afraid to come any further into the world.
The beast lumbered in front of him, stalking. Saliva oozing off it’s six-inch canines. It’s weighted paws crushed into the earth as it made its way around Dom’s position. Dom did his best to circle with it, trying to keep an eye on whatever it was.
The last thing he remembered was the pause, it was almost like the pause right before a big hit. When you know there’s no amount of juking in the world that will keep it from happening. That pause before car crashes when you realize the only option is to brace for impact. The beast lunged, claws gleaming in the moonlight and tearing at Dom’s jogging suit.
The steady, rhythmic high pitched beep of his monitored heart was all he heard; as the world began to come into focus Dom recognized the dripping IV fluid bag and smelt the steril, stale crispness of hospital air.
“Don’t try’n be moving too much now, son.”
“Hggngh…Dad?…”, Dom grunted as he came to.
“Yeah, yeah.” His father reassured, “I’m here, I’m here…calm down.” Dom’s Father stood over him a hand on his head. “Here drink this, Tia an’ your mom’s be here in a minute…”
The water was hard to swallow but Dom was able to gurgle it down his dry throat. “What happened?”
“You’s attacked by sum’n out in dat jungle!” His Father raises his voice.
“Nah Nah, it’s a resort pops…shouldna been no wild anim—“
“No. I’m tellin ya what I know!”, his Father reasserted.
“Aggghh…” Dom winced, trying to sit up. His abdomen burned with a difficult pain. His mind burned from the reality. It wasn’t a dream. But what kindve animal looks like what he saw. “What dey sayin?”
“Well…they sayin a awful lot son.” His Dad looked down at the floor. “You need be prepared to not be the same. Y’know stuff like this take some time to heal an—“
“What dey sayin Pops?!”
“Lacerations, punctures, lotta ‘brasions n’ that…dey say’n you’re lucky to still have an abdomen at all.”
“My God.” Tears began to form in Dom’s eyes, “the team?”
“Don’t worry yourse—“
“THE TEAM??” Dom screamed, the liquid finally finding route along his face from his eyes. “When will I be back?”
“That ain’t what you need to be th—“
Dom yelped out from the absolute torturous pain that surged from his abdomen as he tried to punch the heart monitor. “AAAAGGGHHH!!!”
“Doc!! Doc!!” His Father yelled out as he held his son in his arms.
One year later:
No one had an answer for his strength, beyond human speed, incredible athleticism or near perfect reaction time and instinct. Dom absolutely dominated practice, leaving his teammates stumped on his transformation. He was like a new man, after sitting out an entire year, no one expecting him to even pick up a football again; let alone comeback as a one man wrecking crew. He had even ran a few snaps on defense just to ‘get his heart rate up’ while the other offensive starters took a quick break.
Tone slid next to him in the locker room after practice, “Aye listen man….”, the receiver looked over his shoulders, sketchily making sure no one was eavesdropping. “I want in. Whatever it is, I want some….”
“What’re you talkin bout bro?”
“C’mon man…” Tone smirked, “You gotta put on a better act if you tryna fool somebody here…”
“Man I don’t kno—“
“Don’t don’t do that….I know that stuff when I see it.”
“I ain’t doping man!!” Dom protested.
“Shhh!!!” Tone raised his arms up in indignation. “Okay….Okay…it’s like dat then…Aight.” Tone got up and stormed off.
Reporters were allowed in the locker room minutes later and they had questions eerily similiar to Tone’s accusations. Of course they were sprinkled in with the compliments of heroism and the triumphant return. Dom answered everything honestly, “I’m just ready to play ball again, man.”
As he left the practice facility, Dom decided today he would need to drive himself. It was one of those days after all. He hopped on the freeway and drove for the country, he’d bought a cabin about two hours outside of the city for days like this. He just hoped he would make it in time, the sun was setting fast.
Dom turned the music down as the blaring horns of standstill traffic were drowning it out anyways. This wasn’t good. His heart beat faster in his chest, the anticipation and anxiety crawling up his back felt like an army of spiders. Every hair on his arm began to rise, feeling the energy of night approaching. With every nervous pore of his body opened up, the cars air conditioning couldn’t do much in helping him to cool down. The sky turned from yellow to pink to red to black, all the while he’d only moved one exit. There was no time.
In a panic Dom exited the $90,000 sports sedan and abandoned it. He started running away from the free way. Many a driver behind him had to be freaking out over the potential bomb threat, they had no idea what was about to happen way worse.
It started in his back, the pain dropped him to his knees as his spine began to shift and enlarge. He contorted and yelled out. The cracking, morphing bones echoed like a hammer striking an anvil.
Dom began to smell the ozone coming from the exhaust pipes stuck on the free way. The smell from the vehicles mixed with the presence of evergreen median trees. The firs strong odor filled his nasal passage. Them it him in a strong wave, the sweat…they were all sweating. He could smell every single on of them.
Their horns were slamming his ear drums around in his head like a pinball.
Dom’s last conscious memory was grabbing a pawful of dirt. He paused to admire the gleaming claws and the powerfully black sheened coat of fur that concealed them.
The beast stood up on its rear legs, roaring animalistically up at the moon before charging at towards the highway……
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